Despite Ohio's Tough Economy, Governor Has Plan for Schools
Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland is drawing a warm initial response to his proposed overhaul of the state’s public education system, including a revamped school funding formula, a higher bar for teacher tenure, and replacing the high school exit exam with the act college-entrance test.
The governor outlined his plan in his annual address to lawmakers Jan. 28, saying he would push for major changes to K-12 education despite the fact that the state needs to balance a $50 billion budget that faces a $7 billion deficit.
“We’re going to pay for it by making the decisions and setting the priorities so that education will get the kind of attention and infusions that it needs,” Gov. Strickland, a Democrat, said in a phone interview late last week.
The governor said money expected from the economic-stimulus package now working its way through Congress should let Ohio direct additional resources to education. The governor on Feb. 2 was to release his proposal for a biennial budget for fiscal years 2010-11.
Gov. Strickland’s plan—which includes such potentially expensive elements as universal, all-day kindergarten and expansion of the school year to 200 days, from 180—follows a series of forums he held around the state last year to solicit ideas about how to improve school quality and revise education funding. ("Ohio Governor Listens on K-12—But Action Awaits," Aug. 13, 2008.)
He said some elements, such as boosting the state’s share of education funding, will be phased in over an eight-year period. The next two-year budget will increase the state’s share of education funding to 55 percent from 52 percent; in eight years the proportion will increase to 59 percent.
His proposals would have a significant impact on teachers. For example, he is seeking a four-year residency program for teachers before they receive a license. He did not give details in his speech. Teachers would be eligible for tenure after nine years, rather than after three years, as is the case now.
Sue Taylor, the president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, said the union would have to see more details on the plan before it makes any endorsement. But she generally praised Gov. Strickland’s initiative.
“We’re pleased to see this isn’t a tweaking or putting Band-Aids on problems, but real thought has been put into this,” she said. “We’re gratified to see real educational leadership at the top level of the state. This state has never had that before.”
Funding System Revamp
One of the biggest challenges facing education in Ohio is how to update its funding method.
In 1997, the Ohio Supreme Court struck down the state’s funding formula as unconstitutional because it relied too much on property taxes, creating inequalities between school districts.
William L. Phillis, the executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, the nonprofit organization that filed the constitutional challenge, praised the governor for trying to connect state resources with the cost of education.
“As far as I know, this is the first time there’s ever been a plan set forth [in Ohio] where you first identify the components of a high-quality education, cost out those components, and fund them,” he said.
Mr. Phillis said the governor’s plan attempts to rectify two problems that the Ohio Supreme Court identified: an overemphasis on property taxes, and an inadequate foundation for school funding.
Scott Ebright, the deputy director of communication services for the Ohio School Boards Association, said a change is long overdue.
“There are probably about 45 different kinds of tax levies school districts can put on the ballot,” Mr. Ebright said. “He’s making the school funding formula simpler, which will be easier to understand. It’s going to be more state money for schools.”
In general, said Mr. Ebright, the governor listened well around the state and came up with ideas, though, like others, he was eager to see more details before deciding how good they are.
Terry Ryan, the vice president for Ohio programs and policy for the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute, praised the governor for carrying through with his promise to revamp K-12 education.
Last August, Mr. Ryan speculated that Mr. Strickland was touring the state to listen to people’s views on education to help get Democrats elected to state legislative positions in November. In fact, Democrats did gain control of the Ohio House of Representatives, which had previously been controlled by Republicans. Republicans maintained their dominance in the Ohio Senate.
“He’s moved more toward a reform-minded agenda and is to be applauded for that,” Mr. Ryan said. It’s a good move for Ohio to get rid of its high school graduation test, he said, which he contended “doesn’t have meaning for employers or higher education.”
But Mr. Ryan, who works for an organization that operates some charter schools in Ohio, said he disagreed with the governor’s proposal to bar for-profit companies from running charter schools.
“That seems a bit extreme to us,” he said. “At the end of the day, it should be about schools and the results they deliver,” not which kind of entity is running the school.
Vol. 28, Issue 20, Page 14